The Virgin Islands are the western island group of the Leeward Islands, which are the northern part of the Lesser Antilles, and form the border between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Politically, the eastern islands form the British Virgin Islands and the western ones form the United States Virgin Islands. The British Virgin Islands is an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom comprising approximately 60 islands and cays including Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, and Anegada.
The U.S. Virgin Islands is one of five inhabited insular areas of the United States, along with American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico. The territory comprises a number of islands including St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas and Water Island.
The Virgin Passage separates the American Virgin Islands from the so-called Spanish Virgin Islands of Vieques and Culebra, which are part of Puerto Rico. The United States dollar is the official currency on both the British and American Virgin Islands as well as the Spanish/Puerto Rican Virgin Islands.
Christopher Columbus named the islands after Saint Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins (Spanish: Santa Úrsula y las Once Mil Vírgenes), shortened to the Virgins (las Vírgenes). The official name of the British territory is the Virgin Islands, and the official name of the U.S. territory is the Virgin Islands of the United States. In practice, the two island groups are almost universally referred to as the British Virgin Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In the 1990s a Puerto Rican tourism campaign renamed the Passage Islands as the Spanish Virgin Islands, though they are seldom identified as such on maps and atlases. They are part of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, located east of the main island of Puerto Rico. They are closer to St. Thomas than St. Thomas is to St. Croix.
THE SURPRISING JEWISH HISTORY OF ST. THOMAS, VIRGIN ISLANDS Jewniverse, August 3, 2015 | By Jacob Kaplan
THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE JEWISH CARIBBEAN USATodayby Melanie Reffes, USA TODAY, August 17, 2015
Even tiny Denmark had control of a few islands in the Caribbean. St. Thomas and St. Croix, part of what are now the United States territory of the Virgin Islands, were once Danish colonies. By the late 1700's, there was a congregation, Berakah We-Shalom U-Gemilut Hasadim, and record books exist for births (dated 1786) and deaths (dated 1792). Most of the records were sent to the Royal Archives in Denmark or to the U.S. National Archives in Washington D.C.
Many of the details concerning Jewish history among the Danes have not been extensively studied by scholars. Still, in considering the history of Jews in the Caribbean, it is important to know that there were Danish colonies with Jewish settlements.
Holland, at one time, controlled several islands and territories in the Caribbean under the control of the Dutch West Indies Company. Jews were among the first settlers to travel to the new colonies, many of them descendants of Jews who had arrived from Spain in 1492. The most important of the Dutch colonies were Curacao and Surinam (which was originally British).
History of the Jews of the Netherlands Antilles. By: Isaac S. and Suzanne.
The Jews and St.Eustatius by: Dr. J. Hartog.
Archaeology of the Jewish Synagogue Honen Dalim. By: Dr. Norman F. Barka.
St Thomas, Jewish-American-Society-for-Historic Preservation
St. Thomas Synagogue today and its sandy floor by Shevy Baskin.
Jews from Denmark first arrived on the white beaches of what is now St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands—a tiny speck off the coast of Puerto Rico—in the mid-17th century. These were descendants of a Jewish population that had fled Spain for other parts of Europe during the Inquisition. St. Thomas afforded them a certain religious autonomy that wasn’t always available on the mainland.
In the ensuing centuries, a Jewish community flourished in the capital city of Charlotte Amalie, which now boasts the Saint Thomas Synagogue. According to its listing as a National Historic Landmark, it’s “the second-oldest synagogue…and longest in continuous use now under the American flag.” Notably, the synagogue is one of five in the world that features sand-covered floors. It’s not a tropical affectation—it dates back to the Inquisition-era custom of using sand to muffle forbidden prayer.
Jews first settled on the then Danish-ruled island in 1655, but a Congregation wasn't officially founded until 1796. Only nine Jewish families belonged to the congregation in 1801, but by 1803 it had increased to 22, with arrivals from Holland, England, France, and the islands of St. Eustatius and Curaçao. Finally, in 1833 the synagogue called the Hebrew Congregation of St Thomas was built; the oldest in continuous use under the American flag (St. Thomas is part of the US Virgin Islands which is an American territory). Famous Jews born on St. Thomas include David Levy Yulee, Florida’s first senator and French Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro. Similar to many synagogues in the Caribbean, the floor is made of sand, honoring the Spanish Jews who were forced to pray secretly to avoid religious persecution. Visitors are invited to j oin the Friday and Saturday prayer services and those held on the holidays.